Law is a system of rules created and enforced by social or governmental institutions to regulate behavior. It serves four principal purposes: establishing standards, maintaining order, resolving disputes and protecting liberties and rights.
Law encompasses both public and private laws, but it is most closely associated with the law of property and torts in a democratic society. The precise nature of law is a subject of ongoing debate. Historically, legal scholars have focused on the law as a system of rules and regulations, but they have also approached it as a social construct.
While laws may be created by government or other entities, they are enforced through judicial tribunals. Court decisions are often based on precedents established in previous cases, which can be a form of informal law called common law or case law, and they serve as the basis for formal laws enacted by legislatures.
Scholars have debated the purpose of law, but most agree that it provides a standard against which to measure behavior and ensures individual liberty and equality before the law. It can also play a role in preserving the status quo, and promoting or retarding social change. In a democratic society, the law is a means of ensuring that the majority does not infringe on the rights of minorities.
In some societies, the law is a set of social norms that a majority of citizens agree to follow. Other societies have a more formal legal structure, with a central authority that sets and interprets the law, and a judiciary branch that enforces the law.
The law in a democracy is often influenced by political forces and by the culture of the society, but the principles that underlie it are generally derived from a set of fundamental values. These values include respect for human dignity, privacy and autonomy, freedom of speech and association, and equality before the law. In addition, the law must balance the competing interests of economic efficiency and moral justice.
One of the most controversial issues in modern American tort law is judicial deference to executive statutory interpretation, known as Chevron doctrine. This principle, which was formally established by the Supreme Court decision in Chevron v. Natural Resources Defense Council, reflects the prevailing view that judges are to be regarded as a “de facto coequal branch of the legislature” and that courts should defer to executive statutory interpretation.
In a democratic society, the law is often maintained through the institution of a system of independent courts that hear claims by individuals and provide a forum for resolving disagreements. The courts also serve to protect the rule of law by hearing arguments and protests from individuals who believe they have been unfairly treated or discriminated against. They can also serve as a source of inspiration for new legislation and provide valuable insight on how to best implement the law in practice.